Film Review: ‘Rabun’ is a Heart-warming, Sincere Film that Celebrates Enduring Love and Marriage
An elderly couple move out of the city to a village, but this exuberant and affectionate pair find that life in the countryside isn’t all that pleasant after all.
Director: Yasmin Ahmad
Cast: Katrina Aziz, M. Rajoli, Rozie Rashid, Irwan Iskandar
Runtime: 85 minutes
Anybody who is new to prolific Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad probably won’t guess that Rabun is her very first feature-length film. On one hand, it is a very simple and lively film that reflects on what it means to love and be loved. On the other hand, there is a kind of maturity and thoughtfulness behind every scene and shot, which is unsurprising, since she has accumulated tons of experience from directing acclaimed television commercials.
The film begins with both Mak Inom (Kartina Aziz) and her husband Pak Atam (M. Rajoli) wanting to retire in the kampung, the countryside of Malaysia. Their rationale: the city is full of atrocities like fraud and murder, while the kampung is idyllic and peaceful, perfect for retirement. But this myopic assumption will prove to be their downfall when their relative who lives in the kampung, Yem, decides to swindle them and wreak havoc on their supposed kampung retirement life.
With such a plot-driven premise, it may seem like the film will be full of unnerving and suspenseful moments. But that’s not really the case. Of course there will still be such moments, but the highlight of the story is really about Mak Inom and Pak Atam’s relationship. Just like how Yasmin dedicates this film like a love letter to her parents, the film also dedicates many scenes and sequences to capture the enduring love, intimacy, and tenderness in Mak Inom and Pak Atam’s marriage.
One such sequence, which happens to be my favourite, is when the Mak Inom rides with Pak Atam on a bicycle through the kampung’s landscape of lush greenery and rustic wooden houses. As P. Ramlee’s “Getaran Jiwa” plays in the background, I couldn’t help but be heartened by how blissful – and, dare I say, lepak? – they look as they soak in the kampung’s peacefulness, living exactly the kind of retirement life they had hoped for.
But there’s more to the film than just its simple storyline. With incisive and funny dialogue that glimpse into the prevalent social attitudes in Malaysia, the film explores issues that threaten to divide the country – be they religion, race, or socio-economic issues.
Even so, at the heart of the film is an earnest desire for a tight-knit community where everyone can co-exist peacefully. Although Yem’s antagonistic, unneighbourly behaviour towards Mak Inom and Pak Atam takes up a huge bulk of the story, we shouldn’t overlook instances of neighbourly kindness that both of them have received from other people.
The film especially celebrates multiculturalism with its soundtrack, playing an eclectic range of music from Thai pop songs to P. Ramlee’s ballads. Interestingly, there are no interracial couples – which is a favourite revisit in Yasmin’s films – but the film does feature two non-Malay characters, Yasin and Elvis, who clearly pine for Mak Inom and Pak Atam’s daughter.
In trying to balance the heart-warming, tender scenes with comical and harrowing scenes, the film stumbles a bit. One moment the film is quiet with horror when Mak Inom and Pak Atam discover carcasses of rats near their kampung house, and the next moment, the film is borderline sensual and tender as they bathe each other in the open. Perhaps Yasmin is attempting to appeal to a variety of emotions, but the abrupt cuts and shifts in mood make the film’s overarching emotional texture feel bumpy.
Rabun is an easy, seamless entry into Yasmin Ahmad’s body of films that tackle similar themes with her strong, feisty female leads. Perhaps what is most striking for me about the film is her palpable love for Malaysia, especially its people and its kampung landscape. The plot can be a bit slow-moving, and the film’s emotional texture is slightly uneven, but stay till the end and you’ll definitely experience Yasmin’s vision of what an ideal Malaysia is like – neighbourly, multicultural, and most importantly, compassionate.
Three of Yasmin Ahmad’s films, Rabun, Mukhsin, and Talentime are now streaming on Netflix.